Amid quit call, Galvez stresses efforts to bring vaccine prices down

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Amid quit call, Galvez stresses efforts to bring vaccine prices down
This Oct. 29, 2020 photo shows Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., also chief implementer of the country's COVID-19 policy, who has been appointed as vaccine czar.
Release / National Task Force COVID-19

MANILA, Philippines — Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on Thursday rejected a call for him to resign over allegations that the administration's highly questioned bid to procure China's Sinovac is overpriced.

The Philippines early this month secured 25 million doses of the jabs amid concerns by the public shared even by lawmakers over its safety and price.

It came especially after Sinovac yielded only a 50% efficacy rate in Brazil and officials repeatedly refused to disclose how much the country would be spending for the purchase.

On Tuesday, Etta Rosales — chair emeritus of Akbayan and former chair of the Commission on Human Rights — demanded that Galvez step down over claims of overpricing in the vaccine developed by a Chinese firm. 

"The frantic scramble to justify the government's choice of Sinovac now makes sense," she said, alleging that the decision to pick the CoronaVac vaccine mas motivated by profit.

Galvez, at a Laging Handa briefing on Thursday, said he respects Rosales' opinion, but told her not to pass judgment as she is not familiar with the talks that government, citing confidentiality agreements, has given scant details of so far.

"Sometimes it's hurtful to hear these because you have no knowledge on the negotiations," he said in Filipino. "It's really difficult, and what we're doing is to try and bring down the price."

Figures provided to Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate finance committee chair, by the health department in 2020 showed that Sinovac at two doses was the second most expensive among the jabs being eyed for the vaccination drive. By the new year, the administration said its price is not far from P650 or around $13 per dose.

The Department of Health said the figures given to Angara were indicative prices from the manufacturers and were only meant as basis for coming up with a proposed budget for the government's vaccination program.

Galvez was named as the country's vaccine czar in November last year, months since the pandemic hit the country. COVID-19 has now infected more than 500,000 and resulted in over 10,000 deaths.

He was first tapped as chief implementer of the country's pandemic response, an appointment that raised concerns that the government is militarizing its handling of a public health crisis. Galvez is a retired military chief.

Uncertainties over Sinovac's price were among the issues raised at a Senate hearing on the government's vaccination program, which has set a target of inoculating 50 million Filipinos this 2021.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson in a privilege speech said he could not grasp "for the life of me why we are being kept in the dark" on the negotiations when other countries are able to disclose theirs.

"I am not prepared to accuse anyone in particular of corruption," he said. "Rather, it defies logic to suspect at least an attempt to overprice the vaccine. Again, when there is an attempt at overpricing, isn't it also logical to think that someone would get a huge amount of money?

While such is the case, the country could no longer back down from its purchase of the Chinese-made jabs.

Galvez at the Senate investigation said that the deal is not yet final, but days later was refuted by Malacañang, which saif that with the term sheet signed, there is already a binding obligation on both parties. Sinovac is now waiting for approval from local regulators.

Sinovac has applied for emergency use before the Food and Drug Administration, in the hopes that it would be the second drugmaker to get the approval after Pfizer.

It is also said to be among the earliest expected to arrive in the country, with 50,000 initial doses due next month.








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